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Vic’s visit to Pilgrims’ Friend’s Middlefields House care home

Our member Pilgrims’ Friend  we invited Vic to look round their state-of-the-art care home Middlefields House in Chippenham, which opened in 2021. As well as giving her the grand tour, they took the opportunity to ask her about all things social care, including the unique possibilities Christians have to care for the oldest in society. Here’s their interview with her:

What was your first impression of Middlefields House?

The front entrance where you come straight into the café really feels connected to the community. When I first arrived it was fairly quiet but by the time I left it was absolutely alive with people, including those who lived at the home going off to lunch with relatives or friends. It was interesting to hear that the café is being used by people who live locally because there isn’t that facility in the immediate area. The care home is actually creating a resource over and above what’s available in the wider community.

At Middlefields House we have a household model, with 48 ‘family members’ living in four households of 12. What struck you about this?

I think the household model at Middlefields House has real meaning to it. Sometimes care home providers say ‘we’re running household models’ and the doors are different and the wallpaper’s different and nothing else. This felt like it was people’s home. They had an identity as being part of that particular household. It was very clear that care was very person-centred rather than task-oriented. I didn’t see a single person writing notes, I didn’t see people under pressure rushing around. There were a lot of people and every one had a smile on their face. To see the more public and communal spaces in use was positive. Very often you’ll see spaces like these that aren’t really being used. But what you’ve done is created some smaller spaces that are a bit more intimate. If people just want to meet with two or three people they can do that and it’s quiet and there are no other distractions.

What stood out to you as being different from other settings you’ve visited?
The focus on faith is very strong. I haven’t seen that in the same way in many organisations. I’ve been to quite a number of Jewish services where there is a very strong focus on faith. And other settings where there is a strong Christian ethos but much of that is geared around the chaplaincy. I think the idea that there is a continuity of faith amongst staff and family members is really interesting, and that’s an important part of generating an “assets-focused” culture that everybody’s contributing to.

I also loved the Hummingbird role. For me it’s a very affirming role and could be a great introduction for people who aren’t experienced in care. As a Hummingbird, you’re not linked with one person all the time, but become very familiar with lots of people. I like that.

How do you think a Christian or faith-based approach can be beneficial to those needing care?
I think a lot of it is about identity. Being part of something that reflects bits of your identity is really important for a lot of people. I also think with faith there’s an unwritten expectation around service or giving that actually makes it more possible to ask for help when you need it. If you’ve been of a faith much of your life maybe you know what it’s like to help others, and actually that it’s a two-way experience and it’s okay that it’s your turn to receive help now. There are elements of familiarity that come with faith that’s helpful. lf you’ve left your home, or your family and friends, or lost a partner, you are then offered an environment that maintains elements of that structure.

I think there is a huge role for volunteers in the care sector, and often faith-based organisations are very good at creating an environment that volunteers can be part of, including building intergenerational links with local people.

Personally, what inspired you to become a champion for older people?

My mother is an occupational therapist and she was a big influence on me. She worked in a large psychiatric hospital in Cane Hill in Surrey, and I would spend time there during the summer. I saw what institutional living was like and definitely had a sense of ‘there must be a better way to do things’. This was around the time when people in those kinds of settings were suddenly getting a voice. There was very influential work going on in the disability movement. The phrase that was hit upon was ‘does he take sugar?’ That was used to demonstrate just how ignored disabled communities were; someone is capable of giving their own preference, but everybody looks to the carer.

I am a classic voluntary, charity advocate. I’m not of faith – my faith is in humanity and people and I think I’ve got a contribution to give to communities. I’m very much driven by a sense of social justice. I think people should be able to have the best and most fulfilling life that they can. Where we can do something about it, I want to get involved.

Staffing is one of the most pressing issues in the social care sector. How do you think we can address this?

Sadly, there are people who have an absolutely rubbish experience of working in care. What you need to show them is ‘There is working in care and there is working for Pilgrims’ Friend Society and they are different things.’ Rali and her colleagues are clear advocates of what they offer. I also think it’s about thinking more flexibly, giving potential staff the opportunity to try out the role before they commit. When it comes to younger staff, we may need to accept that care is something they do for three or four years and then they go on to do something else, and we shouldn’t be disappointed by that, but rather build a training programme that caters for it.

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